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Peter Greste is free, Egypt is not

Peter Greste is free, Egypt is not
Published 2 Feb 2015 

Peter Greste is free. And it's an enormous relief to write those words. I honestly wasn't sure this moment would arrive, especially after sitting though numerous hearings inside Egypt's Tora prison. The prosecution was incompetent, offering farcical evidence including snaps from Peter's family holidays, footage of trotting horses, and camera gear (which one would expect a television crew to have). Not exactly convincing material to support the serious charge of aiding a terrorist group, in this case the Muslim Brotherhood.

It was clear early on that Peter, along with his Al Jazeera colleagues Baher Mohamed and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, were caught up in something that transcended Egyptian law. They faced a resurgent military state that viewed the Muslim Brotherood as an existential threat.

Peter's deportation is a big win for his family, who worked diligently and tirelessly to secure his release. It is also a credit to the Australian diplomats in Cairo and elsewhere who did the heavy lifting behind the scenes. But it's less of a win for press freedom and it would be a mistake to read this as a sign that President Al-Sisi is winding back his autocratic rule.

In interrogations by the prosecution one of the Al Jazeera three, Egyptian-born Baher Mohamed said his father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and had tried to make him go to religious classes organised by the Islamist movement. Baher Mohamed received an additional three-year sentence for a separate charge of being in possession of 'unlicensed ammunition' and unlike Peter Greste or Mohamed Fahmy, who may be deported to Canada, there are no rumours that Baher will be released anytime soon. His only hope is the forthcoming retrial or a presidential pardon.

In what was probably the most sobering comment of the day, Baher's brother Assem summed up the situation: 'Baher will not be released, as always what happens in Egypt [is] it's the Egyptians who pay.'

Eleven journalists remain in Egypt's prisons, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists, and all of them were arrested for either covering Muslim Brotherhood protests or for being in some way connected or considered sympathetic to the group. In fact, Egypt's prisons are brimming with activists as a result of mass arbitrary arrests, over 41,000 people having been detained since the Muslim Brotherhood's ouster in July 2013.

Peter Greste's release is indeed a victory and cause for celebration but it in no way a sign that President Al-Sisi and Egypt are moving toward a more inclusive democratic rule.

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